“I never thought this moment would come” says María Toledo in the acknowledgements of her record. What about the rest of us! We’ve been listening to the young woman from Toledo sing for years, all over Madrid, mostly Clamores, as well as numerous theaters and festivals, sharing the bill with maestros like Chano Lobato. But not only Madrid – María has been on the most important flamenco stages. And not only as a professional, but also as amateur. She’s been a part of the Madrid flamenco scene for some time, and like they say, she doesn’t miss a thing.
In addition to her flamenco background which is what most interests us, she has also studied law, and graduated from the music conservatory of Toledo, but it’s only now, after years of patient waiting, the moment for her first record has finally arrived with the record that bears her name: MARÍA TOLEDO.
After such a long wait, you come along and surprise us with a record of flamenco and jazz.
It’s not pure flamenco, but not “flamenkito” or any sort of derivative, I don’t think those labels do any good for flamenco. I just recorded what I’ve been mulling over in my head for a long time, a record in which a flamenco voice sings everything, from folk music to a rap, or an Argentine tango accompanied by a jazz trio with pop sounds. But you can be sure there’s a good fiesta ending with tangos, with Diego del Morao on guitar, it’s not possible to play with more feeling.
For my first recording I felt like showing everything that’s influenced my way of singing, there’s even a Persian scale called “inesfaha” [she smiles]
Were you keeping it a secret that you play flamenco piano? It came as a surprise to a lot of people.
It’s something very few people knew. I’ve been studying classical piano since I was eight years old. But flamenco piano was thanks to classes with Pablo Rubén Maldonado. I’ve been studying with him a couple of years, and everything I know I owe to Paco for having had the patience to teach me.
And your first record, with a multinational no less, what luck. How did Warner come to sign you up? And it’s allowed you to be able to work with Carmen París.
The way things are now, you’re really lucky if they even record you at all. This is a very difficult moment for the recording industry, and I really feel lucky. Thanks to them, and to Ismael Guijarro and Pablo Cebrián (the producers of the record), I was able to meet Carmen París, La Shica, Celtas Cortos and record along with them.
And Arcángel…what a treat, no?
Of course, I love his way of singing and interpreting. He’s different from the rest, and he loves flamenco, a great student. I was lucky enough to receive classes from him, and fortunate that his voice is on my record. It’s like a dream for me when I hear “Cada Día por un Camino”, and the voice of my friend Arcángel is there.
How much flamenco is there, and much of other kinds of music?
As I said, I’m not trying to fool anyone, you have to call things by their proper names. It’s not flamenco, but because of the kind of voice I have, and the years I’ve been in flamenco and its culture, it sounds very flamenco. But it’s a voyage through many genres, flamenco, jazz, Persian, pop, ballads, rap, Spanish folk music, Argentine tango… It’s all interpreted like a flamenco singer would, no question about it.
Who are your references, your flamenco maestros?
I started out listening to Niña de los Peines, Perla de Cádiz, Manolo Caracol, Chacón, Vallejo, Marchena, Escacena, Camarón…and now, I like Enrique Morente, Carmen Linares, Estrella Morente, Arcángel, El Pele, Miguel Poveda…
Ever since I was a child, I’ve listened to one singer or another depending on the cante I want to hear. For malagueñas, Chacón, I steep myself in it, and then put my own personality. I even learned the soleares of Illanda when I was young.
And what flamenco people do you hang out with these days?
In Córdoba I have my great friends Lin and Nani Cortés, and Añil (nieces and nephews of El Pele), they’ve been encouraging me since 2005 when I made my first demo recording. One of the songs, “Bromeo”, was produced by Lin Cortés, and all my people from Córdoba participate.
In the beginning Vicente Amigo and Paquete were also helping me out, they gave me some very good advice. And the Habichuela family, Pepe and his son Josemi, have really taught me a lot. The way Pepe Habichuela accompanied me the other day, it doesn’t get any better than that.
And your live performances, what are they going to be like from now on?
It depends on the format, but in most of my concerts I’ll do a first part accompanied by a jazz trio, and accompany myself on piano, and a second part with more traditional flamenco, with guitar and cajón.
There was a time when you were being helped out by María Jiménez, and by television. What was that like?
I met María Jiménez during the Seville fair in 2005. I went into a caseta where there were important artists like La Susi, Revuelo….and María Jiménez. I was dying to sing, so I just went right into the middle of it all and asked the guitarist if I could sing, and if he could put the capo on the fourth fret in A. They didn’t think I would sing and told me to sit down, but María got up and told me to sing whatever I wanted. So I sang some bulerías, and afterwards she got me on television, which is where Juan Luís Jiménez (from the group Presunto Implicados) heard me sing and play the piano, and thanks to him Warner got in contact with me. That day was crucial for me.
Flamenco singer, with a flamenco voice…but not from Andalusia…that might represent an obstacle in some circumstances. Do you get any resistance?
In actual fact, when I started out I had to go to a lot of contests to make a name, but all the obstacles they put in my way, they just made me try harder day after day to reach my goal. I never give up, and I’ll keep singing as long as I can, because that’s what makes me happy.
THE RECORD; TRACK BY TRACK
Photo: Isaac Morell
1) EN BLANCO Y NEGRO
”When I heard it I loved it, because it’s the truth about what happens in many relationships. It’s in the dark when most couples understand each other, and that makes the woman feel so bad. I thought the line ‘for every wave that breaks in me, I’m still standing’ was absolutely great, because it shows the inner strength of women”.
Composed by Vanesa Martín, En Blanco y Negro is a song that’s half-way between flamenco tangos, and the musical accompaniment of a jazz trio (piano, drums and double bass). The second part of the song takes on a more flamenco feeling when palmas are added.
2) YA NO MÁS
“From the very beginning I had it clear that this song would be on the record.
It was the first thing I heard when I was selecting material, and I liked it so much, the chorus stuck in my head, I never stopped singing it”.
This is a ballad that tells it like it is, we always say “Never again, I’m not going through that again”, but when you fall in love, words mean nothing, and it’s the heart that leads.
Again it’s accompaniment based on jazz harmonies, with a touch of pop music, but the flamenco voice of María.
This song is the first single from María Toledo’s record.
3) NO ME VAS A EMBOLICAR
As is only fitting for a girl from central Spain, María Toledo has always liked ‘jotas’. “My grandmother used to sing to me when I was a little girl, she’d always sing ‘una rubia vale un duro…’.
I met Carmen Paris because one day my best friend said ‘Have you ever heard Carmen Paris?’ No sooner did I hear her, than I knew if I ever had the opportunity to record, I would have to do a version of that”.
‘Jota’ with flamenco accompaniment, and Arabic music to end it.
Singer Carmen Paris collaborated on this song. “I was so surprised when Ismael told me it was Carmen who was going to record with us. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of her through the studio window, I admire her very much”.
4) CON EL TIEMPO
“This was a piece I did on vacation at the beach of Gandía, and I wasn’t able to find an ending to the verse I had. But Juan Luís Ramírez came by and composed a chorus so we were able to finish it”
This is music based on the Andalusian cadence which tells about the fear a woman feels about an impossible love from which she is unable to free herself.
5) QUÉ DIFÍCIL
This is a flamenco rap with the collaboration of La Shica, and is full of energy. It was composed by Juan Luís Ramírez Cayuela.
You hear footsteps, the sound of passing cars, birds singing…sounds recorded in the city where María Toledo was born.
“We wanted to give the feeling of this having been recorded in my house, that’s why we put atmospheric sound in the background, Toledo is a quiet city. The voice was recorded in a second session in Alcalá de Guadaira, with Álvaro Gandul on piano. I had such a good time recording one of my own songs…I wrote it thinking about the relationship a friend of mine had with her boyfriend, a never-ending story, she was always asking me if I’d seen him with another girl, women are amazing!”
The ending is based on Persian music, the “inesfaha” scale “I learned at my Persian music classes in Madrid…What memories!”
7) CADA DÍA POR UN CAMINO
An Argentine tango with the collaboration of Arcángel.
“He’s so sensitive, and what a personality!”
This was recorded in the Rocío (Huelva). “I’ll never forget that day, I had a great time listening to someone I admire very much”.
8) ESO ME PASA
“This is what happens when we give ourselves to something heart and soul. The time for suffering always comes, that’s for being up-front from the beginning. But passion is a wonderful thing!”
This is a song by Juan Luís Ramírez, with a very flamenco chorus. “At the end of the piece, a little flamenco party explodes, with Ismael Guijarro (the producer), my sister and me”.
9) TE ADVIERTO
“When we were picking out material, one day we went to the studio in Lavapiés to listen to the outline of a piece a boy called Juanlu had sent us, on behalf of Álvaro Gandul. He sent us this unfinished song, to see if it was anything like what we were looking for. As soon as I heard it I knew he would be my composer, such a great composer, such sensitivity and good taste! There was no point in looking any further, we already had the right person for the job”.
I warn you, this is a ballad where María bares her soul. She is only accompanied by a piano, that of Álvaro Gandul.
10) UNA DÉCIMA DE SEGUNDO
“We wanted to do a version of something, and the company proposed a piece by Antonio Vega. I loved the idea, because I’ve always admired him, so we got down to work”.
And the result is a very flamenco version, but with some metal, piano, drums, bass, acoustic guitar, percussion…
Instrumental fragments on piano, María Toledo’s identity.
This was to have been the end of the record, but “something was still missing”.
“I’ve sung flamenco all my life, and I wanted to record some flamenco tangos, with a flamenco base, no fusion, just the essence, with my people from Córdoba”.
This was the piece María brought to Warner Music, and it couldn’t be left out of our her first record.
“Bromeo” was produced by Lin Cortés in Córdoba, and is accompanied by the guitar of Diego del Morao with chorus by Nani and Lin Cortés among others.
Ready, set…go! This is María Toledo’s newest work, a different sound…
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